This spring, I had the opportunity to travel to Cap-Haitien, the second largest city in Haiti, with Dr. Reed Kindermann, a Wills ophthalmologist, his wife Greta, and Dr. Jeremy Joseph, an ophthalmologist from the United Kingdom. This was the inaugural trip to Haiti for the Wills International Residency Experience (WIRE). Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, faces unique challenges in regards to eye care, including extreme poverty, high rates of glaucoma, and a limited number of ophthalmologists; there are only 56 ophthalmologists in the whole country, serving 10 million people!
Our host ophthalmologist, Dr. Guerline Roney, runs the ophthalmology practice called Vision Plus Clinique in the middle of Cap-Haitien. It is a unique hybrid between charity care and private practice, and one of the goals of the ophthalmologists who work there is to meet the eye care needs of the poor as well as those with means to pay. Downstairs there is a waiting room and exam lanes for “social” patients, or those in need of charity care. The clinic for the paying patients is upstairs. The facility also has an operating room with two operating tables and two microscopes. The Haitian ophthalmologists who work in the practice (there are four) use funding gained from donors and from the paying patients’ care as well as assistance and supplies provided from overseas visitors (like us) to provide care for the social patients.
During our time in Cap-Haitien, we spent our days at Vision Plus Clinique; our days started with seeing patients referred to us by VOSH PA, a group of Pennsylvania optometrists performing screenings in nearby villages and rural areas. Most patients were referred for glaucoma or cataracts, or both. Those patients in need of surgery stayed until we were done seeing patients in the clinic, and then we did surgery until the day’s end. While in Haiti, I performed 10 extracapsular cataract extractions, a tube shunt, and a conjunctival mass excision. I also was able to assist and observe Dr. Kindermann and Dr. Joseph perform cataract surgery, pterygium surgery, glaucoma surgery, and even surgery for trachoma. In total, our team performed 66 surgeries during our five days in Haiti.
My trip to Haiti was a very valuable experience. This was my introduction to global ophthalmology, to thinking outside the box and recognizing the difficulty of practicing ophthalmology in a setting with limited resources and the satisfaction of helping patients in need. I am grateful to the Wills Alumni Society, the WIRE Committee, and Dr. Haller, Dr. Uhler, and Mr. Bilson for making this trip possible. I look forward to my next trip abroad to learn more about global ophthalmology, and to contribute to improving global eye health.